All About Spike - Print Version
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What Reaches Up to You
By Ivytree

Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: All characters belong to Joss Whedon, UPN, Mutant Enemy, etc.
Feedback: Please!
Summary: Spike’s holidays
Setting: Between Bring On the Night and New Year’s Day, 2003

A/N: All quotes from the dramatic poem “Pippa Passes,” by Robert Browning, which takes place entirely on one New Year’s Day.

Part 1

* * * *

“This body had no soul before, but slept
Or stirred, was beauteous or ungainly, free
From taint or foul with stain, as outward things
Fastened their image on its passiveness:
Now, it will wake, feel, live -- or die again!”

* * * *

Buffy sat at her dining room table, a coffee mug in her hand, staring with unseeing eyes at the dusty reference book open before her. Suddenly, the monster with her face lunged over her shoulder, its features twisted with spite.

“Still searching for Spike? Have a good look, when you find him,” the creature hissed in her ear. “Do you think I want him now? Take him, for what he’s worth!”

As it spoke, Buffy’s hand shook, and the mug tumbled over, spilling a tide of deep red blood over the tabletop that streamed down to form a spreading stain on her mother’s carpet.

“No!” Buffy woke from her dream with a convulsive jerk. Impatiently, she scrubbed at her face with her hands. There was no time for sleep, or nightmares.

She had to find Spike. Her chest ached with the intensity of her need to find him. Was he dead, really dead, this time? Surely she would know if he were. In her mind, she wearily ran over the places she’d already searched. The haunted high school basement was empty, though sickeningly blood-spattered. She’d checked the crypt, the old factory, Angel’s mansion, the derelict building where she and Spike had first – well, gotten together, and even the deserted house where the First had failed to compel Spike to kill her. But there was no sign of him, nor any other clue to what It might have wanted him for. Sparkly lights and holiday decorations blossomed all over Sunnydale, mocking her futile hunt. But a powerful drive, something she hadn’t yet put a name to, kept her going. Responsibility? Honor? Love? Or all of those, combined? She only knew that she wouldn’t let him down, just as she was sure he wouldn’t let her down, no matter what. Not now.

Xander’s voice had been gentle as he tried to discourage her from spending any more time on her search. “Is it really a priority, Buff?” he’d said. “Don’t we have enough on our plate already? We don’t know if he’s even in his right…”

But when she turned to face him, her bleak expression had silenced even Xander.

In the end, of course, Xander was the one who did find Spike. Real-life irony didn’t surprise her anymore.

Willow, Dawn, and the girls were upstairs, sorting laundry and squabbling over trendy tee shirts. Buffy had been perched on the counter in the kitchen, with Giles, trying to think how she could explain the meaning of what Spike had done. Would Giles understand Spike’s quest – would he even trust the truth of it? Would he think it was some kind of trick? Had the all-knowing Watcher’s Council (the LATE all-knowing Watcher’s Council), through the long centuries, ever heard of a vampire seeking his soul’s return? She understood it all now, she was sure she did. She knew why it made Spike a target of the greatest evil they had yet known. But how could she put her intuitive belief into words?

Earth shattering as the revelation of Spike’s soul had been at the time, when Buffy thought about it now, his choice seemed almost inevitable. Angel had told her all she needed to know the very first time she’d encountered Spike – “he never quits,” he’d said. And it was true - since that day, she had never known Spike to give up. He’d struggled and fought, won and lost, tried and failed. But he never stopped. That’s why she was sure he was alive – he was just too damned pig-headed to die.

“Giles,” she’d begun helplessly, still unable to come up with anything convincing to say, “You’ll just have to see him for your…” But her cell phone rang, and she broke off. Apprehension washed over her as she answered.

“Hi, it’s Buffy,” she said.

“Buff?” Xander’s voice sounded oddly cautious.

“Xander?” Fear crept up her spine, but she struggled to keep her tone even.

“Buff, I found him. I saw this abandoned house with an open basement window, and I thought it looked, well, kinda funny – y’know, not ha-ha, but weird - so I took a look around and…”

“Where? Tell me where?” Sheer relief made her fingers tremble as she scrabbled for a pen.

“Okay, okay – but Buffy…”

“What? What are you trying to say, Xander?”

“It’s bad. Really bad.”

* * * *

“Best speak again and yet again of it,
Till words cease to be more than words. ‘His blood,’
For instance -- let those two words mean ‘His blood’
And nothing more. Notice, I'll say them now,
‘His blood.’”

* * * *

She couldn’t even touch him.

Buffy fell to her knees beside Spike’s limp body, drawing on her slayer strength to keep control, and hardly noticing when the hard cement floor bruised her shins. He sprawled like a discarded ragdoll, his hair thickly matted with blood, his face and torso swollen and black with bruises. She couldn’t take his hand – his hands were smashed. And she couldn’t put her arms around him…

“I think his ribs are broken,” Xander had told her when she and Giles arrived. “Like, all of them. I tried moving him, and I heard what sounded like bones grating. We’ll need some kind of stretcher, I guess.”

“Did he say anything?” She heard herself whisper.

“Not a peep. Even when I – well, he never made a sound.”

“What on earth could have done this?” Giles exclaimed, as he took in the extent of Spike’s injuries. “And why?”

Buffy looked up at him. “Why? It wanted something. And It didn’t get what It wanted.” She turned her gaze back to Spike’s almost unrecognizable face. A cold anger swelled within her, and she set her jaw. “It may be ancient, and powerful, and all ‘oooh, look at the big, scary super-baddie,’ Giles, but It’s a fool. It should have realized he’d never give in.” Her voice dropped to a murmur. “It doesn’t know anything about him at all.”

“I wonder if he could speak, even if he wanted to, in this state,” Giles said.

At that moment Spike stirred, making them all jump. His crushed lips moved, and a trickle of blood ran down his cheek from the corner of his mouth. Holding her breath, Buffy leaned closer to catch any words.

“Brickbats and tiles,” he said, weakly, but quite clearly.

“What?” she exclaimed.

“Oh, jeez, now he’s gone nuts again!” Xander cried. “I knew it!”

“Oh, my God!” A thrill of agony shot through her. Xander had voiced her worst fear. What if, in the end, Spike couldn’t stand up under this kind of pressure? What if the First had finally succeeded in breaking his mind, permanently? If resisting evil – for her sake – was what finally destroyed him? If SHE destroyed him?

“Actually, you know, I don’t think he has.” Giles’ unaccountably cheerful voice interrupted her wrenching thoughts. He continued, “Those words are from an old English children’s song. Very suitable to the season, as a matter of fact.” Buffy and Xander gaped at him in astonishment as he began to sing softly,

‘Bull's eyes and targets
Say the bells of St. Marg'ret's,’

“Even you two are probably familiar with the tune,” he added. “And this is how the next bit goes,”

‘Brickbats and tiles
Say the bells of St. Giles'

“And, of course,”

Oranges and lemons
Say the bells of St. Clement's…’

“And so on. Every English person knows it.”

He was right. Buffy did recognize the tune, and the words – not that it got them anywhere, as far as she could see. “But what does it MEAN, Giles?”

“Apparently, whatever’s happened to him, Spike still recognizes me, at least.” Giles crouched beside Buffy, and stared consideringly at Spike’s motionless figure. “So his mind isn’t entirely gone. But, apart from that, I have no idea what it means.”

* * * *

“Escape? To even wish that, would spoil all.
The dying is best part of it.”

* * * *

He wasn’t cold. That was the first thing Spike noticed as his mind swam towards something approaching consciousness. He couldn’t open his eyes, and every square inch of his body ached indescribably – but he wasn’t cold. And he wasn’t lying on a rough, hard floor either. Had he fallen on a – a mattress? Was that even possible? He wasn’t even sure where he’d been dropped when It – the Ultimate Naughtiness, or whatever it called itself – had suddenly packed up its bat-faced minion and scarpered off, spewing a stream of vituperative curses that Spike had barely listened to.

Because, in the end, what could It say that would make any difference? One voice alone echoed in his soul, speaking those four – well, five – words, over and over again. ‘I believe in you, Spike.’ That’s what his Slayer had said. She looked right into his eyes, and told him straight out, just like that. Her words had resounded through his being since that moment, like the never-fading vibrations of a golden bell.

After that, nothing It uttered could touch Spike at all. It thought it was so clever – but It couldn’t frighten him, or anger him, or even interest him. It didn’t seem to grasp that point, and kept nattering on, and doing its little shape-changing party trick, as if anything It did could alter the choice he’d made. What could It threaten him with? Death? Pain? He expected both of those; they were old friends. What could It offer him? Power? Sex? A spot of lovely violence? He’d been there and done that, too, thanks very much. Freedom from this tormenting conscience? A soul wasn’t all starlight and daisies, and he’d known that going in. He didn’t mean to back out now.

No. Spike wasn’t frightened. He was a little sorry to die this way, but he freely admitted he’d been living on borrowed time for about a hundred years. He wished he could have seen Buffy again, so she’d know what it had meant to him when she said what she said. And it did seem rather pointless to die NOW, when he was sure of himself at last. But if his alternatives were death by torture, or recanting his allegiance to – well, in the privacy of his own mind, he could admit it – his allegiance to good instead of evil, so be it.

At the moment, however, he didn’t seem to be dying. He didn’t seem to be doing much of anything. Though at least no one was actively torturing him, which was all to the good, he supposed. He couldn’t move without agony, couldn’t see, and couldn’t hear, though if he really concentrated, he did seem to detect a distant hum of voices – and they were female voices, at that. Quite a puzzle, really.

But right now, Spike just didn’t have the energy to solve puzzles – concentration took too much effort. Slowly, he let himself sink into the black river of unconsciousness again. Maybe later he’d figure it out. Or he’d be dead, and it wouldn’t matter…

Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: All characters belong to Joss Whedon, UPN, Mutant Enemy, etc.
Feedback: Please!
Summary: Spike’s holidays
Setting: Between Bring On the Night and New Year’s Day, 2003

A/N: All quotes from the dramatic poem “Pippa Passes,” by Robert Browning, which takes place entirely on one New Year’s Day.

Part 2

* * * *

“…as we lay,
Rising and falling only with our pants,
Who said, ‘Let death come now! 'T is right to die!
Right to be punished! Nought completes such bliss
But woe!’ -- Who said that?”

* * * *

Spike looked more like himself, at least, Buffy decided, watching him sleep. His face wasn’t so puffy, though it was still purple with bruises; the elegant lines of his cheekbones were beginning to re-emerge. She found that oddly comforting. He had changed a great deal about himself – she didn’t yet know how much – but those cheekbones remained, a memento of the old Spike she’d known, and battled, for so long.

Despite the inconvenience, difficulty, and actual danger, she had insisted that Xander and Giles carry him, inertly draped on an old door they’d found and used as a stretcher, out of the basement, into Xander’s van, and, eventually, up to her own room. There was no such thing as vampire medicine; she couldn’t do anything for Spike except keep him warm and safe, and hope he got better. So that’s what she did, with an unspoken but passionate determination. More than once, Buffy had seen Giles, and Xander, and even Willow, look at her oddly, start to say something, and then stop themselves, as if aware of the futility of protest. But she didn’t care. No one understood. Perhaps no one could understand. Spike was hers now, in a way he had never been before, despite their capitulation to love and lust last year. Because of the momentous step he’d taken, for her, he had become her responsibility and her trust. He WOULD recover, in HER home, in HER bed. She was the Slayer, the one girl in all the world, and she would see to it.

Without warning, she felt his eyes on her. So, he was conscious – but was he himself? Very quietly, she moved toward the head of the bed, and smoothed a strand of hair back from his forehead with one finger.

“Spike?” she whispered. “Do you know me?”

Something like a smile touched his battered face. “’Course I know you, Slayer,” he murmured, his voice dry and hoarse. “It can’t fool me. Not anymore.”

Buffy smiled, trying to keep her lips from trembling; then she leaned over and kissed his brow.

“I know this is really you,” he rasped. That glow was behind his blue eyes, the glow she’d seen there ever since his return. And now she could finally admit that she knew what it was. Now she could show her faith in him. She let herself meet his eyes, open and unguarded; he continued, in a shaken voice, “Buffy, I think I can – I can see your soul.”

“I know.” She felt a tear slip down her cheek, and brushed it away with her hand. “I can see yours, too.”

* * * *

“…Though I be lost,
I know which is the better, never fear,
Of vice or virtue, purity or lust,
nature or trick! I see what I have done,
Entirely now! Oh, I am proud to feel
Such torments -- let the world take credit thence --
I, having done my deed, pay too its price!”

* * * *

“Hey, Spike.”

He opened his eyes, momentarily disoriented. The room was dim, but he could see much better now, and even move a little without seizing up in agony, though the person speaking was outside his field of vision. Who was that?

“Wills?” he said.

“Buffy had to go out and, you know, kill stuff, but she wanted you try and eat something,” she said. She leaned closer, with something in her hand, and Spike could finally see her. The same Willow, red hair, green eyes, fuzzy pink sweater, and all – but sadder, and wiser, somehow, he noted with regret. She was too young to be sad and wise. “Or, I mean, drink something, I guess.”

With that, she held a straw to his lips, and he smelled the blood before he saw the mug she held. Fleetingly, he recoiled; but Willow’s expression was determined, and he forced himself to swallow. The girl was trying to help him, after all. It was only pig’s blood, heated to a comfortable temperature; but nowadays, he had to stop himself from thinking that pigs wanted to live, too. After drinking about half a mug full, he pulled away.

“I guess that’s enough for now,” she conceded, her tone concerned and friendly. “So, how do you feel, Spike?”

“Could be worse.”

“Gee, ya think?” she exclaimed. “Because you sure don’t LOOK like it could.”

“Guess I pissed off the wrong Big Bad this time,” he said.

He was startled to see Willow’s eyes grow large and soft. “Spike, Buffy told us – we understand what happened to you, how It was messing with your head, how It went for you, after you did – what you did.” Her voice was tentative, as always, but sincere. “I want to say – it wasn’t your fault. It really wasn’t. You would never betray Buffy. And she never doubted you, you know.”

In fact, he hadn’t known that. His heart swelled with aching joy – though he didn’t deserve Buffy’s trust, in the end, did he? “Thanks, Will,” he choked out. “But she must have told you – you must know what happened…”

Gazing down at her fingers, twisted together, she shook her head. “You wouldn’t have hurt her even when you were bad, on purpose, I mean. Some big evil MADE you do it. You had no choice. I know something – awful – happened between you and Buffy before, but I also know…” her color heightened as she continued, not lifting her eyes, “Believe me, I know, you can hurt someone you love so much, even when you don’t intend to.”

“I was sorry, about Tara,” he said, answering her thoughts rather than her words. “She was a good person.”

Then Willow did look up. “She WAS good. And I – I tarnished her love by what I did. I HAD a choice – I just made the wrong one.” Her eyes blurred with tears. “I can’t ever forget that. And I can’t ever undo it.”

“No, Will. No. She loved you, anyone could see that. She saw so much that was good in you.”

Both finding it difficult to speak, they were silent together for a few moments.

Then Willow said softly, “Maybe that’s what we all should do – find the good in each other.”

* * * *

“I cannot afford to cast away a chance.
I have whole centuries of sin to redeem,
and only a month or two of life to do it

* * * *

“Spike? Are you awake?”

He woke with a start, out of a dream of snowflakes in the darkness, and his mother’s voice, singing old, half-forgotten songs. “Niblet – I mean, Dawn?” he croaked.

He heard her approach the bed, and wondered warily if she was carrying anything flammable. Last time they spoke she’d made certain threats.

“Buffy said you shouldn’t try to talk,” she said, in a firm little voice. “But you’ve got to have food so you’ll get your strength back. And it’s not like I like you again, or anything, but it’s Christmas. So drink.”

Christmas? Good Lord, was it? He’d never even noticed. Dawn flicked on the bedside lamp, sat down near the head of the bed, and held the inevitable straw to his lips. As he obediently drank, he studied her. She looked apprehensive, but was putting a brave face on it, and he didn’t see the hostility she’d shown him previously. But they weren’t friends again, either. She avoided his eyes, and chewed her lip. After a few moments, he turned away, wincing.

“No more,” he said. “I can’t…”

She was quiet for a few moments. “Does it hurt?” she blurted out, finally. “It looks like it hurts.”

“Yeah, it hurts.”

“Why do you need all this blood?” There was a quaver in her voice, and her words tumbled over each other. “Buffy said there was hardly any blood left in your whole body. I don’t understand. What happened to you?”

Well, he’d always been honest with her before. “Drained it out of me, they did.” He gestured at his bandaged torso. “Before the rest of it.”

“The bad guys?”

He had to smile at that. “Yeah, the bad guys.”

“But why?”

“They needed a lot of blood in a hurry, I s’pose.”

“I mean, why did they hurt you? Weren’t you with them? On their side?”

That wounded him, as much as another blow would have, but Spike didn’t let himself react. Of course, she’d think that; why shouldn’t she? He closed his eyes. He didn’t want to see her stubborn, beautiful little face anymore.

“No,” he said tiredly. “I wasn’t on their side.”

Once more, Dawn was silent for a while. When she spoke again, her voice was small and uncertain.

“So It made you do things, like Buffy said? And you didn’t even know?”

“Yeah. It made me.” He fought off the growing weariness that drove him toward unconsciousness, and looked at her again. It hurt – God, how it hurt – but she should know the truth; she had a right to know what he really was. She’d come to trust him before, and it had only caused her pain. “But It probably couldn’t have, if I wasn’t bad to begin with. Soul or no soul. So you lot were right about me.”

“I don’t know,” Dawn whispered. “It made other people do things, too. It lies and cheats. I don’t think Jonathan was bad to begin with - or even Andrew. And…”

Damnation. It was hard to be self-sacrificing when you were constantly interrupted by irrelevancies.

“Who the bloody hell is Andrew?” Spike asked impatiently.

Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: All characters belong to Joss Whedon, UPN, Mutant Enemy, etc.
Feedback: Please!
Summary: Spike’s holidays
Setting: Between Bring On the Night and New Year’s Day, 2003

A/N: All quotes from “Pippa Passes,” by Robert Browning, a dramatic poem that takes place entirely on one New Year’s Day. (Sorry, the chapter lengths are a bit wonky, but this was a tad time-dependent!)

There *will* be new chapters of Samaritan and Return, soon!

Part 3

* * * *

“How Love smiles through Hate's iron casque,
Hate grins through Love's rose-braided mask, --
And how, having hated thee,
I sought long and painfully
To reach thy heart, nor prick
The skin but pierce to the quick –“

* * * *

Spike heard the bedroom door open. Which one was it this time? So far, as regular as clockwork, Willow, Dawn, and even Anya had arrived to ply him with blood every few hours. He hadn’t seen Buffy in several days, but he knew she’d visited, while he slept.

“Man, I thought you looked bad last time,” Xander’s voice said.

“Lucky for me I don’t have to see myself, then,” Spike replied. He pushed himself up on one elbow, squinting, and saw Xander standing awkwardly in the doorway. “Though that hasn’t been a problem for quite a while now. Come to stake me, have you?”

“Uh, no. I don’t know if you’ve got any idea what’s going on…”

“Not really.” He suspected that the situation was not only complex, but also extraordinarily ominous. But none of the ladies had felt it necessary to explain, so far; he realized that they were sparing his impaired intellect from any further strain.

“…But we need all the help we can get, at this point. Maybe later, though.”

“Oh, sure.” Spike dragged himself into a semi-sitting position. “I’m a lot of help to the Slayer in this state, all right.”

“Well, you’ll heal up fast, I guess.”

“’S’pose I will, with a pack of women forcing pig’s blood down my throat every five minutes,” Spike grumbled. “That reminds me – what’s Giles doing here? And who are those others in the house? The other females, I mean. Besides ours.”

“How did you…?”

“Heard ‘em chatting. Incessantly.”

“Oh. Yeah. I forgot about the super-senses thing. Well, see, that’s the point.” Xander ran his hands through his hair. Spike couldn’t help noticing the shadows under his eyes. “They’re the slayers. Or future slayers, I should say.”

“Come again?”

“While we’ve been having our merry romp chasing you around beautiful downtown Sunnydale, with occasional excursions to rescue doomed teen poets, thwart love-charms, and hunt down half-witted minions, it seems Evil has gotten way out of hand, in Technicolor, Cinemascope, and Dolby Digital. First It went after the slayers-in-training, the girls who might become the next slayer. Then It went after the Council.”

“The Council of Wankers? But there must be dozens of ‘em, right? What could It do to them?”

“It killed them. All of them. The girls, too. The potential slayers. They’re all dead. A few strays are heading for Sunnydale, with a few surviving watchers, but they’re the last.” Xander let out a breath. “That’s what It wants – to open the Hellmouth, release evil into the world, and, oh, yeah - end the line of slayers, for good.”

“’Strewth!” Spike exclaimed, stunned. This was beyond anything he’d imagined. Buffy was right. They needed all the help they could get, even that of a half-crippled, soul-addled vampire. Well, at least he still knew how to fight. He needed his strength back, and quickly. “Come on, then, help me up,” he demanded.

“Oh, yeah, right,” Xander scoffed. “And have my own personal internal organs sliced and diced by four Florence Nightengales when you bleed to death, or something? No, thank you. I was just checking to see if you, like, turned to dust on your own.” He turned and went out the door, and then poked his head back in. “And don’t try getting out of bed by yourself, because Buffy will be pissed as hell if you get vampire stains all over the carpet.”

On that note, he shut the door behind him with a smug thump, leaving Spike helpless and fuming in the dark.

* * * *

“No mere mortal has a right
To carry that exalted air;
Best people are not angels quite:
While -- not the worst of people's doings scare
The devil; so there's that proud look to spare!”

* * * *


Spike sighed. Why did they always say his name just that way? Who else in the Summers house was bedridden in a darkened room? This time, he sat up, with considerable care, and turned on the bedside light himself.

“Hello, Rupert,” he said.

“Good Lord,” Giles remarked, approaching the bedside and pushing his glasses up his nose. “You do heal remarkably quickly. The last time I saw you, you resembled nothing so much as several pounds of uncooked liver.”

“Thanks so much for THAT image,” Spike said.

“Now all the black bits are purple, and the purple bits are green,” Giles went on, eyeing him with scientific interest. “You look like a Turner sunrise.”

Spike bit back the snarky reply he’d come up with. Instead, his gaze dropped to Buffy’s comforter, and he said, “Sorry about your mates, and all, Rupert. I remember that Lydia girl, and Imran Cumberbatch seemed like a decent bloke. Didn’t hold a grudge when the Slayer nearly took his head off.” And it was true, he was sorry. Poor old Rupert must have lost a lot of friends when the First struck at the Council.

Giles was strangely silent, and after a moment, Spike stole an uneasy glance at his face. He was standing there with his mouth slightly open, looking absolutely gobsmacked.

“No offense,” Spike offered. “Though I can’t work up much regret for old Travers – made Buffy’s life hell, didn’t he? But the others seemed decent enough.”

“Good Lord.” Giles seemed to be speaking almost to himself. “Buffy was quite right. I can see it for myself.”

“Excuse me?”

“Oh, um, yes,” Giles came back to himself with a visible start. “Thank you for your condolences, Spike. Or – would you prefer to go by William, now?”

“No.” Not that he hadn’t thought of it. But ‘William,’ the name he’d heard on the lips of his mother and sisters all his life, didn’t ring true anymore. “I can’t go back. I’m not the man I was.”

“I can understand that.”

“Anyway,” Spike said, and this time it was he who spoke abstractedly, almost to himself, “I SHOULD remember what I did – what ‘Spike’ did – all those years.”

“But was that your fault?” Giles eyes were penetrating, although he also seemed quite pleased to be able to engage in a philosophical discussion (not exactly a Scooby specialty), for a change. “You’re a different person now.”

Spike spread his hands before him. “The things I did – these hands did them. This brain thought of them.” He looked up. “I FEEL the same.”

“Well, perhaps that’s just as well, at the moment,” Giles said, reverting to practicality. “I don’t know what your skills might have been, as a human…”

“Bloody limited,” Spike muttered.

“…But I imagine your vampiric, ah, capabilities, are what we need right now.”

“That’s what I thought.” Spike rubbed the back of his neck with one still-purple hand, and winced. “What day is it? Boxing Day?”

“No, you slept right through; it’s New Year’s Eve, in point of fact.”

Damn. It was getting late. Whatever it was would surely come soon. “What’s going on, Rupert? Where’s the Slayer? What’s our battle plan?”

“The plan – such as it is – is a bold one. Buffy has decided to gather our forces, the potential slayers, the remaining watchers, and, of course, you – and then, as soon as possible, despite the overwhelming odds, to, ah…”

Spike’s heart lifted. Rupert didn’t really have to tell him; he’d been studying Buffy’s ideas of strategy for too long. He grinned. “Don’t tell me. Attack?”


“That’s my Slayer!”

* * * *

“And now what am I? -- tired of fooling.
Day for folly, night for schooling!
New year's day is over and spent,
Ill or well, I must be content.”

* * * *

It was New Year’s Day. Spike clutched the banister at the top of the stairs. Willow stood beside him, holding his arm in a firm grip, and Dawn hovered behind. Giles stood at the bottom of the stairs, to catch him if he fell, apparently, and peering over his shoulder were two wide-eyed teenage girls.

Spike had essentially browbeaten his caretakers into helping him get up. Willow had found some old gray sweatpants and a tee shirt that, mercifully, lacked cartoonish embellishment, to replace his ruined clothes. His bones had knit, his contusions had largely healed; he was also bored beyond even vampire endurance. More importantly, he needed to see his Slayer and find out what he could do to help her.

Now for the stairs, which suddenly seemed high and remarkably steep. Steeling himself, Spike took the first step downward. Just put one foot down after the other, that was the ticket. A faint wave of dizziness swept over him, but he mastered it, and continued his descent, Willow and Dawn trailing solicitously. He didn’t really NEED to be coddled like this, and it made him feel edgy as hell, as a matter of fact. After all, he’d suffered injuries far worse than this - when Buffy dropped the pipe organ on his spine, for instance. And he’d rehabilitated himself quite nicely without any help. Of course, he was evil then, but still. He didn’t need everybody looking at him and holding his elbow as if he were a little old lady.

Right, then. He’d made the landing. Pausing for a moment, he saw Xander rise from the sofa in the living room; Anya stood beside him, but didn’t take his hand. Hmmm. Behind them, the big picture window was simply gone, its empty frame boarded up. An unprepossessing blond guy sat tied to a chair in the living room. He supposed that must be the famous Andrew. For some reason, the bloke was staring at him with great intensity, which was odd, because Spike couldn’t recall ever seeing him before. Though there was something…

Down just a few more steps, and he’d reached the front hallway – on his own steam, too. He shot a small glance of triumph at Willow and Dawn.

“Remarkable,” Giles said, standing back. “I never would have believed you’d come this far in little more than one week. I’m simply astounded.”

“I’m not.”

They turned to see Buffy standing in the kitchen doorway. Spike had known she was there, of course. He never took his eyes from hers as she approached the little group standing at the foot of the stairs.

“I’m not astounded,” she said. “Whatever it takes, Spike can do it. You should know that by now, Giles.” She stood quite near him, her arms folded, gazing at him steadily. After one brief glance, he was almost afraid to look in her eyes again – what he saw there was too overwhelming.

“Um, excuse me, but your friend here – isn’t he a vampire?” one of the potential slayer girls said to Giles, in a stage whisper.

“Yes, Kennedy, but he’s on our side now,” Giles replied. “We’ve been over all that.”

“I thought you meant he was, like, not a vamp anymore,” Kennedy pursued. “Not that he could still bite us.”

“Well, he can’t bite us, anyway, even if he wanted to,” Giles said irritably.

“How do you know?” the girl said, in a skeptical tone.

“That’s right,” the other girl chimed in. “You aren’t just taking his word for it, are you?”

“Really, girls, I’ve been dealing with vampires since before you were born - I think I know what I’m about…”

The young slayers-to-be didn’t seem about to give up on their doubts anytime soon. As they argued back and forth, Giles began to sound quite exasperated. But Spike didn’t resent the girls for it; they were right to be suspicious. They’d live longer that way. Their bickering voices faded away into background noise as he took a step closer to Buffy.

“What do you want me to do, Slayer?” he asked, steadying himself against the wall. “How can I help?”

Her face was drawn and tired; there was a bruise across her forehead, and she moved as if her muscles were almost as sore as his were. She was dressed for battle, in plain pants and a close-fitting turtleneck, and her hair was pulled severely back from her face. But her eyes were glorious, luminous and deep, and in them, he saw confidence, pride, and – could it be? – real, living warmth.

“You’re helping just by being here,” Buffy said, in a quiet voice. He stifled a gasp as she put her hand on his arm. “Having someone I trust to watch my back, when the time comes, is just what I need.”

“If you can trust me again,” he began, and broke off. The generosity of her words staggered him. How could she forgive so much? “Buffy, it’s so much more than I deserve…”

“Spike.” She smiled a little. “Under these circumstances, with, you know, an all-powerful enemy I can’t fight, and the end of the world coming - not to mention a house full of teenagers - I can’t give you what you deserve. I wish I could. But if we all survive this…”

Ever so lightly, he touched the back of her hand with his fingertips.

“Whether we do or not, you’ve given me more than I ever dreamed of,” he said.

“If we do survive, it will be the start of a whole new year. And we can both begin again.” She took his hand, threading her fingers through his. “So, whatever happens, happy New Year, Spike.”

Was anyone watching? Well, they could mind their own sodding business if they were. He raised her fingers to his lips for one brief moment.

“Happy New Year, Buffy.”

* * * *

“…You creature with the eyes!
If I could look for ever up to them,
As now you let me, -- I believe, all sin,
All memory of wrong done, suffering borne,
Would drop down, low and lower, to the earth
Whence all that's low comes, and there touch and stay
-- Never to overtake the rest of me,
All that, unspotted, reaches up to you,
Drawn by those eyes! What rises is myself,
Not me the shame and suffering; but they sink,
Are left, I rise above them. Keep me so,
Above the world!”

* * * *